Tips for Shopping the Swap Meet

By Cedar | March 20, 2014

tips fo shopping the swap meet

Years ago I wrote a post on how to thrift like a pro. I thought I would do a similar post all about shopping the swap meet (or flea market, depending where you live!). In recent years I have been having better luck at the swap meet than the thrift stores I used to haunt. It is so nice to leave the little one and dad at home in bed, and get out and do some digging for treasure. Here are a few tips I have on the subject.

Arrive early. This is very important. Things go quickly, and another vintage hunter may beat you to an item if you aren’t there to snatch it up. In fact, have your clothes ready to slip on, and your bags gathered the night before so you can wake up, make a cup of coffee and go. The early bird gets the worm!

Wear comfortable shoes and dress in layers. There is a lot of walking involved, so be sure to wear the appropriate attire. Layers are always good, once the sun starts coming up, it can get pretty toasty around these parts, especially in summer. Bring a bottle of water if you plan to be out long or it is going to be warm.

Bring your own bags, supplies to wrap, or a push cart. I always carry around some fold-able cloth bags in my purse, they are not just great for carrying items, but also wrapping breakables in. I sometimes carry a grocery bag, with some bubble wrap in it, this has come in handy many times. You will see many others pushing carts or pulling wagons, this is a great idea if you are looking for larger items.

Bring small bills. It is considered bad form to haggle something down from $20 to $12 then ask the vendor to break a $20.

If you see something you like, jump on it. Items move quickly at the swap meet, so decide quickly if you need it in your life. It is very likely that it will have sold if you decide to walk around and think about it.

Leave the kids at home. Trust me, just do it.

Know what you are willing to pay for an item, and don’t be afraid to barter. The only time I don’t barter is when something is dirt cheap and I am in shock at the low price the vendor has offered me. Depending on the item and the price, my offer varies quite a bit, but never below half the asking price (unless you are buying quite a bit from the vendor, often then they will cut you a deal).

Only buy what you can use and have room for. In the past I have made the mistake of bringing too much stuff home, just because I found it for super cheap and loved it. Don’t make the same mistake I did, unless you want to be featured on an episode of hoarders! Now I bring home less and try to donate at least one item for each item I purchase.

Walk through quickly the first time or two (depending on how many people have set up), then take your time perusing. I like to do this so I can snap up those “amazing finds” that are sitting out for anyone to buy. After I have made my rounds a time or two, I will go through much more slowly, searching through boxes, looking at books, browsing jewelry cases, etc.

Go often. This is the number one tip I tell people about finding deals. Some days I strike it big and come home with a trunk full of goodies, other days I leave empty handed. It takes a long time to build an amazing vintage collection (and perhaps one is never entirely done!), so the more you go, the better your chance of finding your treasure.

Have fun! Actually, this is my number one tip. If it stops being fun, stop going.

Happy hunting!

4 Responses to “Tips for Shopping the Swap Meet”

  1. Stephanie Says:
    March 20th, 2014 at 6:12 am

    Is that the Spring Valley Swap Meet?


    Cedar Reply:

    Santee. I haven’t been to the Spring Valley one in years, I keep meaning to go, but Santee is so much closer to me!


  2. Ashley P Says:
    March 20th, 2014 at 7:25 am

    VERY wise advice!! I frequent our local flea market, and am champing at the bit for when it opens this spring.
    As for “Leave the kids at home,” I used to take my daughter with me and she’d sit happily in the stroller people-watching, but judging by her behavior since she’s turned two, I will very much be following your advice, haha.
    I may also have, once or twice, been the A-hole who haggles a price down and then asks a dealer to break a larger bill. Gonna have to take a long hard look in the mirror.


    Cedar Reply:

    Haha! I am guilty as charged as well. I always try my best to give exact cash, but sometimes a girl gets desperate! :)